Can Biden restore America’s lost soul?
The 2020 US Presidential election has been perhaps the most closely contested election that came down to the wire. It was not without its share of controversy, threats of lawsuits and, surprisingly for a democracy like America, marked by sporadic violence, attempted voter suppression—the intent resembling a trait in many countries of this region but carried out through subtler means—and accusations of likely vote rigging by, of all the people, the President himself. More people have voted in this election for the 46th President of the United States than ever before—around 68 percent of the voting-age population. And more people have turned out for Biden—more than 74 million (50.5 percent of voters), the highest turnout for any candidate surpassing Jefferson. It was a unique race too, conducted under the shadow of a pandemic that Trump handled so pathetically.
Donald Trump seemed to be inflicted as a vengeance on the people of America in 2016 (although not by the majority of the voters), and indeed on the rest of the world, for putting a Black man in the White House for eight years. That “aberration” has been corrected but not without considerable damage at home to the American society, and abroad to its credibility. However, having for the first time not only a woman but an immigrant with Jamaican and Indian parentage as the Vice President of the US, come January 20, 2021, is definitely a balm to this damage.
While the result has given a new President to the US, it has revealed something very ominous and disconcerting about America. One should see more than the visible outcome of the elections. The result shows a divided nation, thanks to Donald Trump’s untiring effort to enlarge the schism over the last four years. It is not surprising that Joe Biden won but that Donald Trump fought so close a battle. The outcome was never a foregone conclusion. And neither was it an outright rejection of Donald Trump, as the statistics show. What is remarkable is that if there are more people now than 2016 who do not want Trump as president, there are more people, more than 70 million (47.7 percent of voters) who want him to be. That means more people than in the past have articulated their preference for what Trump advocates—racism, religious bigotry and social inequality—and more people have come to conform to his values, principles and policies. And that is what is alarming, for Americans as well as for the rest of the world.
His core voter base is now wider than the 30 percent we have been so used to hearing of. And that has wider implications considering that in the last four years, the Republican Party of yesteryears, the GOP, has mutated into the Republican Party of Trump. What will the party be without Trump? Will the GOP be able to revive its real character, which was so badly mutilated by Trump imposing his own convoluted and distorted persona onto it? The meekness and indeed the lack of ethics and the corrupted morality that was displayed by some of the leading Republican members of the Congress surpass even the most depraved and meanest of some of the politicians of our region.
Second term elections in the US, we are told, is a referendum for the incumbent. According to poll pundits, there has been only one single deciding issue that has determined the results of US second term presidential elections in the last 50 years. The one that people deemed fitter of the two candidates to address that single issue had won, except on two occasions. The only issue this year was Covid-19 and who could handle the pandemic and its aftermath. The preference was for Biden, not surprisingly, given the ham-handed handling of the pandemic by Trump. That trend has continued in this election too. A botched handling has cost nearly 250,000 American lives lost to Covid-19, so far, and the election being lost to Biden. But one is not sure if the coronavirus has been the only consideration. It was a vote against chaos and divisive policies, for civility and truthfulness and against a person driven by megalomania.
For a country that claims to be the leader of the free world, the world can only pity America for having been given a person like Donald Trump to lead it over the last four years. The Americans were inflicted the pains of an administration that was “defined by dishonesty” and the world saw an unpredictable, unstable leader.
In an article nearly four years ago, after Trump was sworn in as President, we had predicted that in the world stage, he would be like a bull in a China shop, breaking asunder the existing world order. It has been proved right. He has withdrawn from international agreements and global organisations such as the Paris Climate Accord and WHO, and weakened regional groupings. Biden has expressed his intention of rescinding those decisions. At home, Trump has wrecked the institutions of the government without any compunction. He has diluted the separation of power between the executive and the other branches, particularly the judiciary, making the Attorney-General his personal layer rather than the US’.
Trump was a divider of people and he has left the US more divided than ever before along social and racial fault lines, evermore vividly exposed. He bared his misogynist tendencies and a megalomaniac disposition for power overriding the interests of his people, often unable to hide his racist inclinations by his race and religion-baiting utterances. To him, lying was first nature, an instinctive reaction. Trump felt more comfortable in the company of autocrats; he sacrificed science to his political interests, discarded global warming as a hoax, and to him, the figure of a quarter million dead Americans, all due to Covid-19, was only a statistic. He was a President who thrived on fear mongering and xenophobia.
Joe Biden’s message is clear. He has promised change, but he will have much to do to revive the soul of America, putting together a fractured society that has lost its moral compass, and healing the wounds that Donald Trump in his reckless act of dividing the nation has caused. What the world would like to see, in the country that claims to be the leader of the world, is that dignity and civility of the office of the US President is restored, and that sanity of thoughts and actions prevails. The instant reactions of world leaders congratulating Biden on his victory is demonstrative of the relief of the international community. It is extraordinary that so many world leaders have welcomed his victory, even before the election has been officially called. The EU leaders have termed Biden’s victory as a great day for Europe and America while the NATO Commanders’ comments convey a hope for a revitalised organisation.
It was one of the most important elections in the last several decades, which Biden and many others termed as the battle for America’s soul. The common refrain now is, what would a Trump-free US and world be like? And I cannot resist quoting a lady who in answer to that very question on Facebook replied, “Just as a Covid-free US and world would be.” Seldom have so few words conveyed so much.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.